Cherry Red's long-running RPM imprint announced earlier this year that 2020 would be its final year of operations - but that hasn't kept RPM from going out with a bang. One of the final titles to arrive from the imprint, Right Back Where We Started From, is a joyous 3-CD celebration of Female Pop and Soul in Seventies Britain. The title is drawn from Maxine Nightingale's irresistibly bouncy 1975 single, a top ten entry in the United Kingdom and a top five in the States. Not every track on this 77-song collection is as well-known, but most capture the same bright, uptempo sound along with a heaping helping of melody and rhythm. (Not surprisingly, many of these songs found favor on Northern Soul dancefloors.) When '70s pop had turned to other directions, the U.K. scene kept the spirit of '60s Motown, pop, and soul alive even while addressing the emergence of disco. As expected for an RPM compilation, artists both well-known and hardly-known sit side-by-side, adding up to a cratedigger's delight.
Plenty of familiar names appear here. Dusty Springfield (her sultry, cool "Spooky") and Petula Clark ("Right On") are both members of British pop royalty. They're joined by the illustrious likes of Helen Shapiro ("That's the Reason I Love You"), Billie Davis ("I've Been Loving Someone Else"), Linda Lewis (the zany "Rock-a-Doodle Doo"), Lesley Duncan ("The Magic's Fine") and Hazell Dean (a disco-fied version of Ruby and The Romantics' "Our Day Will Come").
Right Back Where We Started From also affords some legends of session singing to take center stage, notably Madeline Bell of Blue Mink (the Latin-tinged original "That's What Friends Are For") and her frequent session-singing mate, Doris Troy (the funky "Stretchin' Out"). Bell and Troy frequently sang with Duncan and Springfield. The Charter Sisters were also first-call session vocalists. The set presents their, well, steamy R&B rendition of Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)."
One of the most fun aspects of the collection is hearing singers from other genres have a moment in the pop sun. Folk artist Bridget St. John charms on her own "Some Kind of Beautiful," while folksinger-turned-blues doyenne Dana Gillespie offers the funky, self-written "All Cut Up on You." Some names here are from the jazz world, including Salena Jones (with a gospely take on John Sebastian's "Baby Don't Ya Get Crazy") and Wilma Reading (going solo with Marvin and Tammi's perky "Two Can Have a Party").
Reading's track is far from the only Motown cover on this set. There's a heavy '60s Sound of Young America influence throughout these '70s tracks (The Playthings' "Stop What You're Doing," Honeyend's "Heartbreaker") and enough cover versions for seemingly an entire album. Tina Harvey's unusual reinvention of Martha and The Vandellas' "Nowhere to Run" boasts a garage-rock spirit with its blaring guitars, aggressive drums, and stabs of organ. Another Tina, disco queen Tina Charles, gave a high-octane spin to Martha's "I Can't Dance to the Music You're Playing."
A Motown deep cut comes from The Notations, led by Jon Hendricks' daughter Michele. She led a swooning, lushly-arranged "Need Your Love," originated by girl group The Lollipops. The Flirtations sweetly revisited Marvin Gaye's "Little Darling (I Need You)," produced by an actual Motown alumnus, Don Hunter Powell. B.J. Arnau - best known as the singer of "Live and Let Die" during one pivotal scene in the James Bond film of the same name - can't top Chris Clark's "I Want to Go Back There Again," but does the towering composition justice.
Paula Knight (likely a pseudonym for Carol Parks, the liner notes helpfully tell us) cut a likeable version of Four Tops' "It's the Same Old Song" with '70s gloss in place of The Funk Brothers' sheer power. Romey Carr did The Velvelettes' "These Things Will Keep Me Loving You" modeled not after the original, but after Diana Ross' cover version. Hitmaking songwriter Jackie Trent, backed by The Majestics, even got into the Motown act with a cover of the Gladys Knight and the Pips nugget "Can't Give It Up No More." Clarence Paul's funky "Baby Don't You Leave Me" (later covered by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston) got a makeover courtesy of Julie Rogers. While Rogers was usually more comfortable in plush orchestral settings, she shines here - although the white bread background vocals nearly threaten to derail the track.
Other recognizable tunes were up for grabs, too. The musical potpourri continues with a disco version of the Doris Day standard "Secret Love" from Belgian superstar Christine Leenaerts, a.k.a. Ann Christy. Far more bizarre is Margie Miller's frenetic "Fever," and the single-named Grazina's stab at Lesley Gore's chart-topping "It's My Party" which juxtaposes the familiar beat with a slow, ballad approach.
With Gloria Jones' original version then unavailable in the U.K., Ruth Swann (real name: Jill Saward, later of Shakatak) turned in a credible cover of "Tainted Love" that's a highlight here. Saward recurs under the name of Diana Foster on the toe-tapping "I'm Gonna Share It with You" with its Detroit-style bassline and "Baby, baby" refrain, and then appears a third time (!) as Samantha Jones (already the name of a U.K. singer) for "Stop."
Actor-singer Carol Woods checks in with a rare ballad in a sea of uptempo stompers: the shimmering "I Wonder What Will Happen." Another respite is Katie Kissoon's dramatic "If Not for Your Love." In addition to the Jackie Trent track, Tony Hatch (Jackie's then-husband) produced the lilting "Catch Me, Catch Me" from Sweetcorn, the two-man, two-woman outfit formerly known as Two of Each. The confection was written by two of the U.K.'s strongest tunesmiths, Tony Macaulay and Geoff Stephens.
A clutch of covers - some faithful, some clever - comprises a section of the third CD including actress Linda Thorson's "You Will Want Me" from the young Leon Ware; Adrienne Posta's bubbly "Express Yourself" from the prolific team of Neil Sedaka and Phil Cody; Tiger Sue's by-the-numbers take on Jackie DeShannon's "When You Walk in the Room;" The one-named Bee's spin on The Kinks' "Tired of Waiting;" and the duo Blonde on Blonde's appropriately fiery Zeppelin tribute, "Whole Lotta Love." Best of all is Yvonne Elliman's "I Can't Explain" with Pete Townshend on guitar. The track will undoubtedly be a surprise to those who only know Elliman's softer side.
No RPM collection would be complete without some surprises. Theatre and television veteran Millicent Martin (Side by Side by Sondheim, Frasier, Grace and Frankie) belts the film theme "Every Home Should Have One," written (in part) by John Cameron and Ned Sherrin. Mother Trucker was a band, not a vocal group, but under the supervision of '60s pop guru John Madara and The Wrecking Crew's Mike Melvoin, they recorded a soul-pop revival of Gamble and Huff's Soul Survivors tune "Explosion in My Soul" for Ember Records. Southern soul queen Doris Duke also channeled her pop side with another G&H melody, the duo's floor-filling "A Little Bit of Lovin'" (a.k.a. "A Little Bit of Your Love"). Eartha Kitt purred through a moody "Hurdy Gurdy Man," doing Donovan's dark original proud.
Even the all-but-unknown names here largely entertain, such as the sixty-something Big Spenders' 1970 single "Why Don't'cha Tend to Your Business," The Angelettes' sugary, harmony-laden "I Surrender," and Patti and The Patettes' full-blown Phil Spector pastiche "Summer Heartbreak." Cissy Stone's "Gone But Not Forgotten" is a Philly-inspired groove; listening to her confident vocal, it's easy to see why Marvin Gaye was among her fans. Chrissy Roberts, heard on the coquettish, breathy "Something Good" (sounding a bit like Claudine Longet), is among the set's mystery artists. Another is Samantha Sinclair, responsible for the pretty, soft "On a Plane to Nowhere." Cherry Red aficionados will recognize the names of Polly Niles, Twinkle, and Birds of a Feather, as all were subjects of anthologies in recent years. Niles is represented by "If I Let You," while her backing track for "Sunshine in My Rainy Day Mind" was recycled by Ember Records for Milly Scott's version (also featured here). The Birds' "Leaving the Ghetto" and Twinkle's "Caroline" both are tantalizing samplers from their discographies.
Right Back Where We Started From is housed in a simple slipcase, with each disc in an individual paper sleeve with credits on the back. A thick, 48-page booklet has Ian Chapman's comprehensive, track-by-track liner notes as well as co-compiler John Reed's introduction. Simon Murphy has remastered for generally strong sound; some tracks do sound as if they were derived from lesser-quality sources, but not enough to be distracting. There's plenty to discover here from this fertile period of '70s British pop invention.
Right Back Where We Started From: Female Pop and Soul in Seventies Britain is available now from Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada. You can peruse the full track listing and order from Cherry Red at this link!